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Cooking up new food entrepreneurs

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Evanston's Economic Development Committee visited Now We're Cookin' Wednesday night for an update on how a city-assisted project to generate new, entrepreneurial food businesses is going.

Now We're Cookin' owner Nell Funk said the shared kitchen space at 1601 Payne St. has 25 to 35 active users each month, a dozen of them new this year.

And she said that 40 percent of the non-farm vendors at the downtown Evanston Farmers' Market are current or former clients of Now We're Cookin'.

Top: Funk, in the building's combined loading bay and storage area, talks about plans to rent more space and knock out a wall to provide more storage space for the expanding businesses. Above: City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, in suit, and EDC members listen as Funk describes how the kitchen space is used.

Food start-ups rent kitchen space for $25 an hour, with as many as three different businesses using different sections of the kitchen at a time, she said.

Funk said the money provided by the city is intended to both increase her business' capacity, and to provide coaching for the start-up food business owners to increase their chances of success.

A lot of the would-be entrepreneurs "are artists who don't have a business background," Funk said, and the project hopes to connect them with potential mentors and provide training and a community of other entreprenures as well as discounted vendor services and market exposure.

A new dishwasher that washes and sanitizes dishes in just three minutes increase the facility's capacity.

The city last July approved a $35,000 grant for Now We're Cookin' business incubator project, the start of what Funk hoped would be a three-year commitment totalling less than $140,000.

The money has been used for a variety of purposes — from buying a new high-speed dishwasher that makes it possible to handle more food production projects in the same amount of time to hiring a part-time incubator manager.

The committee is scheduled to get a formal request for second-year funding from Now We're Cookin' at its July meeting.

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